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New Tolkien-Themed Botany Book Describes the Plants of Middle-Earth

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While reading The Lord of the Rings saga, it's hard not to notice J.R.R. Tolkien’s clear love of nature. The books are replete with descriptions of lush foliage, rolling prairies, and coniferous forests. A new botany book builds on that knowledge: Entertainment Weekly reports that Flora of Middle-Earth: Plants of J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium provides fantasy-loving naturalists with a round-up of plants that grow in Middle-earth.

Cover art for botanist Walter Judd's book "Flora of Middle-Earth: Plants of J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium."
Oxford University Press

Written by University of Florida botanist Walter Judd, the book explores the ecology, etymology, and importance of over 160 plants. Many are either real—coffee, barley, wheat, etc.—or based on real-life species. (For example, pipe-weed may be tobacco, and mallorns are large trees similar to beech trees.)

Using his botany background, Judd explores why Tolkien may have felt compelled to include each in his fantasy world. His analyses are paired with woodcut-style drawings by artist Graham Judd, which depict Middle-earth's flowers, vegetables, fruits, herbs, and shrubs in their "natural" environments.

[h/t Entertainment Weekly]

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Art
The Simple Optical Illusion That Makes an Image Look Like It's Drawing Itself
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Artist James Nolan Gandy invents robot arms that sketch intricate mathematical shapes with pen and paper. When viewed in real time, the effect is impressive. But it becomes even more so when the videos are sped up in a timelapse. If you look closely in the video below, the illustration appears to materialize faster than the robot can put the design to paper. Gizmodo recently explained how the illusion works to make it look like parts of the sketch are forming before the machine has time to draw them.

The optical illusion isn’t an example of tricky image editing: It’s the result of something called the wagon wheel effect. You can observe this in a car wheel accelerating down the highway or in propeller blades lifting up a helicopter. If an object makes enough rotations per second, it can appear to slow down, move backwards, or even stand still.

This is especially apparent on film. Every “moving image” we see on a screen is an illusion caused by the brain filling in the gaps between a sequence of still images. In the case of the timelapse video below, the camera captured the right amount of images, in the right order, to depict the pen as moving more slowly than it did in real life. But unlike the pen, the drawing formed throughout the video isn't subject to the wagon-wheel effect, so it still appears to move at full speed. This difference makes it look like the sketch is drawing itself, no pen required.

Gandy frequently shares behind-the-scenes videos of his mechanical art on his Instagram page. You can check out some of his non-timelapse clips like the one below to better understand how his machines work, then visit his website to browse and purchase the art made by his 'bots.

And if you think his stuff is impressive, make sure to explore some of the incredible art robots have made in the past.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Big Questions
Who Gets to Ride on Mardi Gras Floats?
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Cheryl Gerber, Getty Images

Mardi Gras is pure sensory overload, and no attraction defines the celebration better than its parades. Every year, the city of New Orleans is awash in garish greens, yellows, and purples as armies of ornate, bombastic floats roll through the streets. But if you think drunkenly asking for a seat on one of these floats is going to work, well ... it's a bit more complicated than that.

The dozens of Mardi Gras parades are thrown by groups called "krewes," which are basically the organizations that stage these events. There are krewes with all sorts of themes: there's the Krewe of Cleopatra, which was originally formed just for women; the Krewe of Mid-City, with their tinfoil-decorated floats; the Krewe of Orpheus, founded by Harry Connick Jr., whose floats usually feature a celebrity or two; and plenty more.

Members of these krewes are who you see riding on the floats throughout the season, decked out in masks and costumes. In fact, float-riders are required by law to wear a mask to keep up the festival's mystique. To get on these floats you have to be a member, which involves a whole other process, depending on which krewe you choose.

Some krewes will bring you on board for a small entry fee, though this probably means you'll be helping put together the floats, buying your own costumes, etc. Others—especially for the larger and more established krewes—have a bigger fee and even hold reviews by senior members. Some of these krewes have been established within the past decade or two, while others, like the Krewe of Rex, have been around since the 19th century.

A Mardi Gras float celebrating the life of John James Audubon (1785 - 1851), an American naturalist, ornithologist and artist, in New Orleans, circa 1956.
A Mardi Gras float celebrating the life of John James Audubon (1785 - 1851), an American naturalist, ornithologist and artist, in New Orleans, circa 1956.
Three Lions, Getty Images

All membership requirements are unique. For the Krewe of Morpheus, for example, you would have needed to put in your $100 deposit in January to reserve a spot on a float (krewes have multiple floats of varying size). In total, their dues for the season are $550, which will get you a "Ride in the parade; Costume; Morpheus Bash (Pre-Parade Party); Post-Parade Party; & 1 Membership Medallion."

The Krew of Pygmalion, a krewe started in 2000, offers a similar process, with an online application and a tiered membership system that begins at $450 with $150 down, all the way to $1375 with $300 down. Smaller, grassroots krewes have even cheaper dues, like the sci-fi-themed Krewe of Chewbacchus which charges $42 and once had Giorgio Tsoukalos of Ancient Aliens fame as the king of its float.

Many times, the larger krewes, like the Krewe of Muses, simply don't have room for any more members. And even if there is an opening on some of these select krewes, you'd have to know a guy who knows a guy to even be considered for membership. So if you're not from New Orleans (or a celebrity) and want to get into one of the notable krewes, it's a tall order.

If you're planning a Mardi Gras trip this year, you'll likely have to settle for walking the streets instead of riding down them. But, it's never too early to start sending out those applications for 2019.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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